A new kind of support
Not only did Katie Deming want to help her patients feel comfortable, she wanted them to feel beautiful.
Deming, an oncologist at Kaiser Permanente in Portland, noticed a common problem among her breast cancer patients: there was no support. But she wasn't referring to people, she was referring to the lack of comfortable bras for women who've had radiation and surgery for breast cancer.
The Lake Oswego resident set out to solve this problem by creating a line of lingerie suited for women with breast tenderness and swelling. And in June 2016 Deming launched her collection, MAKEMERRY.
After women undergo treatment, the radiation leaves a sunburn-like reaction around the entire breast. Because of this, the tenderness of the skin causes pain when coming into contact with certain fabric, stitching, seams and underwires used in regular bras.
About 10 years ago, during Deming's residency training, she was taught to tell patients to go braless or wear loose cotton t-shirts. But this wasn't a reasonable solution, she said, before later conducting research of her own. Deming shopped around and went to a large retail store to see what products were available.
"When I went there I said to them, 'I have breast cancer, I'm going to need a lumpectomy' — which is a type of breast cancer surgery — 'and radiation, what do you recommend that I wear?' I just wanted to know what they were going to put my patients in," Deming said. "They brought in all of these packages of super medical, ugly packaging and what was inside was even worse. It was something I would never want to wear."
Deming said the bras she tried on would hurt her patients and were mainly focused on after-surgery support.
"If you have surgery, you need compression and you need a pocket so that if they had a mastectomy they could put a prosthesis in it," she said. "I left there and was practically in tears in my car because I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I've just sent my patients to have this experience and it really felt quite terrible and I don't have breast cancer."
Deming spent the next four or five years problem solving with her patients. From flipping camisoles with a shelf-bra inside-out to make sure the elastic didn't touch the skin, to advising patients to put pantyliners against their underarm or wear a t-shirt under their bra, Deming wanted the jerry-rigging to stop.
"Because I live in Portland (metro area) and there's apparel companies in the area, I was able to find a pattern maker, a designer and a sample sewer, and kind of just formulated a team here locally," said Deming, adding that the process for designing her collection took about six years. "I wasn't interested in bringing something out if it didn't solve the problem completely, so I just took my time."
The MAKEMERRY collection — which is licensed through AnaOno, an apparel line for women with breast cancer — consists of a full coverage bra, a plunge-neck bra and an inside-out camisole where the shelf-bra is on the outside. The fabric is made out of a spandex and modal blend — a natural fiber that undergoes less processing than cotton.
"There's a lot of chemical processing to break down the fibers so women who have sensitive skin can be irritated by those things in cotton," said Deming, adding that modal fabric is softer and the seams are sewn between layers so there's no stitching or binding under the arm. The bras also have a wider band and sit lower on the ribcage to decrease irritation under the breast.
And although the collection was launched only two years ago, it has already taken off. The three bras have been modeled on the runway in the New York Fashion Show both in 2017 and 2018.
"It was a fashion show that benefited Cancerland — a media nonprofit that raises awareness for metastatic breast cancer, and metastatic means stage four, non-curable breast cancer," said Deming, adding that the models in the show also had breast cancer. "It is so powerful that these women were up there basically showing the world that cancer is not going to define them."
The bras come in ivory, black and blush and can be found on makemerrybody.com or in stores at Just Like a Woman, 6333 S.W. Macadam Ave. Suite 102, Portland.
"A lot of the response we've gotten is 'Thank you for helping me feel beautiful and comfortable at a time where I feel scared and everything is really medical. It's a chance to feel like myself,'" Deming said.